Many years ago, when Long Pond in the Belgrade Lakes ranked as one of Maine’s best three waters for catching big landlocked salmon, I was driving over the bridge upstream of Wings Mills Dam on Belgrade Stream below Long Pond and spotted Steve Duren, intently fishing off the dam.
This man grew up fly-fishing New York’s classic Catskill trout streams, and this Maine angling spot had him looking like a wound-up steel spring. If I were mean enough to sneak up and poke his ribs, he’d take off like a Saturn rocket. He was fly-fishing with that much concentration, arousing my curiosity.
Were landlocks lying in the current coming from the dam?
After parking, I hiked down to Duren, and he started talking before I got to him. He told me that dead-drifted caddis emergers were fooling white perch if he tightened the line so the nymph rose to the surface like the natural caddis. The perch would porpoise and sip the fly delicately, and he had thrown six or seven on the board planks of the ancient dam.
Duren was talking fast, too, and explaining the perch were as much fun as brook trout and brown trout. And that night, he and his family would have a free fish fry with perch fillets.
That’s the beauty of white perch. The white, flaky meat offers a delicious main dish as good as haddock, and no one needs to feel guilty about killing them. Thinning them out in ponds and lakes helps them grow larger; otherwise, schools of stunted fish too small to fillet can fill a pond.
Even better, folks can catch these perch on worms or live baitfish, and Waldo friend Tom Seymour does gangbusters with this perch, casting Trout Magnets with ultra-light spinning rods. White perch slam this lure, which is nothing more than one of those rubber bass jigs in a smaller size. (Readers can find Trout Magnets on the Net).
Swedish Pimples, small Mooselook Wobblers and similar choices in small sizes also attract white perch. In fact, in small sizes, it would be difficult to find something this perch wouldn’t bite, and in my youth I once caught them on a corn kernel or a single baked bean.
White perch (Morone americana) can be anything to anyone, a cooperative species and a “perch” in name only. It’s really a bass similar in looks to a white bass, also called silver bass or striper — the latter a descriptive term because silver bass have stripes like a saltwater striped bass.
This is one of the quirks of fish names in Maine. Scientifically speaking, smallmouth and largemouth bass are in the perch family, and white perch are in the bass family. Brook trout are a char, as are lake trout. Neither of the last two is in the trout family.
Most white perch weigh less than a pound, and in my estimation a 12-inch white perch makes a great pair of fillets and provides a nice tussle on a light fly rod or ultra-light spinning rod.
The state-record white perch weighed 3.13 pounds and measured 171/4 inches long, caught in January 2009. The previous state record was set in December 2008. How often are state records set a tad over a month apart?
Here’s an interesting tidbit about white perch, which begins with northern pike. When bucket biologists introduced pike to Long Pond in the Belgrade Lakes in the early 1980s, the white perch then were tiny. Pike fed voraciously on this schooling member of the bass family, which increased the size of the pond’s white perch. As of this year, this perch still runs large.
White perch have catholic tastes and eat most anything that fits into their small mouths, but they key on insects, crustaceans and small baitfish.
Vic Dunaway, in his North American freshwater fish guidebook, calls them excellent as table fare, certainly close to or equal to walleye, and he suggests ultralight-spinning or fly-rod gear. In the latter category I prefer a 4-weight, 81/2-foot model for dead-drifting nymphs.
Now — back to Duren. Here’s a guy who grew up in the cradle of American fly fishing for trout, and he spent a May evening casting caddis emergers to white perch, which at the time he likened to trout because of the way they porpoised to his nymphs.
In addition to fun, the fish provided a delicious meal for Duren, his wife and two daughters.
That puts this fish in the category of having everything to recommend them to all groups of anglers — from classic fly fishers to bait dunkers to hardware casters to trollers with bait and spinners.
Here’s another point about white perch. The species ranges from North Carolina to Nova Scotia, but in Maine white perch lived close to the coast before settlers arrived from Europe and moved this species inland. Also, a persistent rumor claims that Native Americans moved them around in waters close to the coast before settlers arrived to spread the species inland.
In short, for centuries, lots of cultures appreciated the eating qualities of M. americanus, an American original.
Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at: